McDonnell Finally Weighs In; Will He Reappoint Dragas?

Yesterday’s two big events in the UVA debacle were Governor Bob McDonnell’s declaration that whatever Tuesday’s decision is, is final and Helen Dragas’ response to that letter. There were a couple of things of note in those two statements.

McDonnell’s letter to the Board of Visitors is all about acting as if he’s above the fray—he recommends no specific course of action regarding President Teresa Sullivan—but in reality he’s loading the dice. He calls on the members of the BOV to ignore what other people (faculty, staff, students, alumni, etc.) have to say, and just do what they want to do. Which sounds unbiased, but since these groups are unanimous in their support of Sullivan, it’s rather the opposite. He also says that whatever happens Tuesday is final—that the BOV is not allowed to change their minds any more. (Note that they have not yet changed their mind at all. Sullivan was forced out, and nothing has changed since.) What makes three a magic number, he does not say. This either indicates a pretty surprising disinterest in the outcome of a serious controversy at Virginia’s flagship university or that he has cause to think that the outcome is going to be his preferred one. McDonnell’s threat is that he’ll remove the entire Board of Visitors on Wednesday if they don’t get this settled. It doesn’t seem to make any sense for the BOV to ignore new information, as McDonnell’s demand explicitly requires. Even if the BOV found out on Wednesday that Sullivan is famed hijacker D.B. Cooper, McDonnell’s instructions would oblige them to ignore this knowledge and retain her as president. Both McDonnell and Dragas write in their statements that three BOV meetings are enough on this topic. Since Tuesday’s meeting will only be the second meeting of the BOV, that’s an odd assertion—it leaves room for yet another meeting, although it’d need to be squeezed in before Wednesday.

In her brief statement, Dragas unsurprisingly echoes McDonnell’s call to ignore the unanimous demand that Sullivan be reinstated (“we alone are appointed to make these decisions on behalf of the University, free of influence from outside political, personal or media pressure”).

Finally, a reliable source in the governor’s office yesterday told me that McDonnell intends to reappoint Dragas to the BOV on July 1, when her term expires. This sounds too dumb to be true, but after chewing it over, I think that there’s something to it. To be clear, the fact that I was told this doesn’t mean that it’ll happen. Not only could facts change that would cause McDonnell to not reappoint her, but the point may actually be to cause people (specifically the BOV and Sullivan) to believe that McDonnell would be willing to reappoint Dragas—that is, that the source was deliberately fed bad information. The Hook asked the governor’s spokesmen for a comment on this last night, and one responded saying that “the governor will make his decisions about board appointments in late June or early July”.

In a nutshell, the problem is that Sullivan has (ostensibly) said that she won’t return to the presidency unless Dragas steps down. So she’s left her fate in Dragas’ hands. If Dragas refuses to quit, Sullivan would refuse to retake the presidency. That would make Sullivan look petulant and Dragas look like the grown-up in the room. Sullivan loses and Dragas wins, and McDonnell is free to reappoint Dragas, with Dragas looking comparatively reasonable in the eyes of many. But if Sullivan drops the requirement of Dragas’ resignation (if it is, indeed, a requirement of hers), then Sullivan is victorious, Dragas feels like a fool, and McDonnell surely would not reappoint her. Sullivan can safely claim that she never demanded Dragas’ resignation—it was just a rumor. In either case, the governor has a week to test public response before deciding what to do.

In a hour-long, wide-ranging discussion, I chewed all of this over with dozens of people on Twitter last night. R. Cooper was kind enough to collect all of those tweets via Storify, which I’ve included after the jump for those who want to read the great discussion that we all had.

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